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After Israelis mark their independence, Palestinians recall their displacement

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This past Tuesday, May 14, Israel celebrated its Independence Day, marking the day in 1948 that Israel came to exist as a state. On Wednesday, May 15, Palestinians marked what they call the Nakba - a day of their displacement. NPR's Hadeel al-Shalchi reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN BLARING)

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: A siren goes off in the crowded Al-Manara Square in downtown Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. Hundreds of people stand in silence for 76 seconds - a second for each year since the Nakba.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN BLARING)

AL-SHALCHI: Nakba is catastrophe in Arabic. It's the word used for the forcible displacement of about 700,000 Palestinians after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. That war was triggered when the United Nations partitioned the former British Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states, which Arabs refused to recognize. Palestinians were never allowed to go back to their homes, and, today, about six million live as refugees. One of those refugees is law student Raghad Batanji.

RAGHAD BATANJI: I'm originally from Jaffa, and now I am in Ramallah just because they stole my land and my parents' and my grandparents'.

AL-SHALCHI: Today, Palestinians are thinking about the Nakba under the shadow of a war in Gaza. Batanji says this war may be even worse than the Nakba of 1948.

BATANJI: I feel so angry about what's happening and the fact that all the world are watching us and not doing anything - the whole world, literally watching us being killed and being silent about this.

AL-SHALCHI: Activist Mays Hijawi said that, for her, the Nakba didn't end in '48.

MAYS HIJAWI: (Speaking Arabic).

AL-SHALCHI: She says, "our rights are being violated every day, and we are hurt just because we're Palestinians."

RASHID KHALIDI: What's happening in Gaza is unprecedented.

AL-SHALCHI: Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi says the war in Gaza has triggered the trauma of the Nakba. This time, around 1.7 million people in Gaza have been displaced - sometimes more than one time - and it reminds Palestinians of the original displacement of 1948.

KHALIDI: Relatively and historically, the Nakba is a more devastating experience for the entirety of Palestinian society - I mean, just this displacement after displacement after displacement after displacement. Palestinians in the diaspora have been moved, in many cases, two and three and four times.

AL-SHALCHI: Khalidi says that, just like in '48, many in Gaza today fear they will not be able to return to their homes. And even if they did, there would be nothing left to go back to. The U.N. has said that it would take until 2040 to rebuild homes. All eyes are now on the southern city of Rafah, which Israel says is the last Hamas stronghold. About 1.3 million Palestinians were sheltering there, and many have nowhere to go. Still, Khalidi says he does have hope in the resilience of the Palestinian people.

KHALIDI: Trauma has been added to trauma - more healing is going to be necessary for Palestinians. They've overcome trauma in the past. They undoubtedly will in the future. There will be scars.

AL-SHALCHI: Hadeel al-Shalchi, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.